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Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

same-sex-marriage-bigThe Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California, turning away an appeal by supporters of Prop 8.

The court also overturned a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to legally-married same-sex couples.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — After years of struggle on both sides of the issue, the question of same-sex marriage goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

People were already lining up outside the court Friday morning for the limited number of seats available Tuesday and Wednesday, when the justices will hear oral arguments on two cases.

For those of you who won’t be in the courtroom, here’s a look at what to expect.

As Joe Biden might say, it’s a big family deal

These are no ordinary laws before the Supreme Court: They represent battles over a generations-old concept of marriage and the rights of an increasing number of families in legally recognized gay and lesbian relationships.

There are an estimated 120,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex couples to marry, and a dozen others recognize “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” that grant some of the same benefits without full marriage rights.

But 29 states have added bans on same-sex marriage to their constitutions, including California, the most populous state.

Supporters of the same-sex marriage ban in California argue that it’s not just tradition but also biology: “The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary — culturally and biologically — for the optimal development of a human being,” Rutgers University sociologist David Popenoe has written.

How we got here

It starts back in 1993, when Hawaii’s Supreme Court found that the state couldn’t deny same-sex couples the right to marry without a “compelling reason” and sent the issue back to the state legislature.

Hawaii lawmakers quickly passed a law banning gay marriage, and advocates of traditional marriage began mobilizing to fight the prospect of gays and lesbians being able to marry.

That led to the passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 legislation that forbids the recognition of same-sex marriages nationwide and bars married gay and lesbian couples from receiving federal benefits.

But DOMA is becoming an orphan. Two federal appeals courts have already struck down its benefits provision; the Obama administration has refused to defend it; and former President Bill Clinton, who signed it, now calls it “incompatible with our Constitution.”

With the Justice Department now arguing against it, Republicans in the House of Representatives hired their own lawyers to defend the act.

The California ban, known as Proposition 8, passed by a 52-48% margin in 2008.

It eliminated the right to marry that had been recognized by California courts earlier that year.

Opponents of the measure challenged it in court and have succeeded in convincing federal judges at the district and appellate levels to find the ban unconstitutional.

The justices will hear oral arguments on Proposition 8 on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they will take up DOMA.

A civil right, or a political question

One the biggest issues facing the justices is whether they can — or should — issue a ruling that will effectively broaden the legal definition of marriage, long restricted to heterosexual couples.

Backers of DOMA and Proposition 8 say it should be up to the public to make that decision, not the courts.

“Our most fundamental right in this country is the right to vote and the right to participate in the political process, ” said Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group.

“We don’t need the Supreme Court to take that right away from Americans of good faith on both sides of this issue and impose its judicial solution,” Nimocks told CNN’s State of the Union.

“We need to leave this debate to the democratic process, which is working.”

But California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is arguing against Proposition 8, said voter-approved marriage bans “are simply unconstitutional.”

The Supreme Court has ruled more than a dozen times that marriage is a fundamental right, “and as it relates to a fundamental right, the court will hold that under the highest level of scrutiny.”

“It is one thing to read the polls, which we have discussed, which show again that a majority of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage,” Harris said. “But it is more important to read the Constitution.”

Who to watch

Same-sex marriage advocates will be watching Justice Anthony Kennedy during this week’s arguments.

The generally conservative Reagan appointee has authored two opinions that advanced gay rights during his tenure, striking down state laws criminalizing homosexual sodomy and striking down a Colorado constitutional amendment that forbade local gay-rights ordinances.

In that 1996 case, Kennedy wrote for the court, a state can’t decide that a class of people are “a stranger to its laws.”

Conservative supporters of the bans have turned their eyes toward Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The justice, a Clinton appointee, told a Columbia University forum in 2012 that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that struck down state bans on abortion short-circuited a political consensus on abortion rights.

Karl Rove, the onetime strategist for former President George W. Bush, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that Ginsburg may oppose a sweeping decision in support of same-sex marriage.

“What we may see is a decision here that in essence is not a 5-4 decision, but a 6-3, 7-2 that says ‘leave it up to the states,’” said Rove, whose old boss once endorsed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriages. “In fact, we could see an 8-1.”

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the author of a lengthy Ginsburg profile for The New Yorker, said Ginsburg is likely to find the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional but isn’t likely to knock down bans on same-sex marriage nationwide.

“She does not believe in grand pronouncements, even liberal grand pronouncements, from the Supreme Court,” Toobin said.

A shifting landscape

The court is hearing arguments as a public shift toward same-sex marriage appears to be gathering speed.

The proportion of Americans who support same-sex marriage has grown from around 40% in 2007 to 53% in a CNN/ORC International poll conducted last week; 44% remain opposed.

Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 as a supporter of civil unions but not same-sex marriage. In 2012, months before facing voters again, he said his thinking had shifted and that he supported marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient,” he said.

“I was sensitive to the fact that — for a lot of people — that the word marriage is something that provokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”

Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, ran as a defender of traditional marriage, and the party’s platform opposed same-sex marriages.

But since November, numerous GOP figures have emerged as supporters of same-sex unions.

Dozens of high-profile Republicans — including former party Chairman Ken Mehlman, ex-presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman and actor Clint Eastwood — filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Proposition 8 should be struck down.

And earlier this month, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced he is now a supporter of the freedom to marry after finding out that his son — a Yale sophomore — is gay.

“Eventually, as time marches on, this is a country that believes pretty squarely in marriage equality,” former Bush spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace told “Fox News Sunday.”

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — Advocates of gay marriage held a candlelight vigil Sunday night ahead of U.S. Supreme Court hearings on the issue this week.

Dozens of supports gathered at the L.A. City Hall West Steps on Temple and Spring Streets.

Some who spoke included lesbian and gay families who could be impacted by the court’s ruling on both Prop. 8 and DOMA, as well as elected officials, faith leaders, community activists and celebrities.

The event was organized by Founders of the Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles, California Faith for Equality, Family Equality Council, GetEQUAL, GLAAD, Good As You, Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the New Organizing Institute.

Thousands are expected to rally in Washington, D.C. in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday when the court takes up Prop. 8.

Christina Pascucci reports.

Los Angeles, Calif. — KTLA The plaintiff’s challenging Proposition 8 were honored Saturday night at a gala in downtown Los Angeles.

The gathering was held as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear two landmark same-sex marriage cases on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The court will first hear a challenge of California’s Proposition 8.  Then on Wednesday justices will listen to a challenge to part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

In November 2008, a majority of California voters approved Prop 8 , which limited marriage to between a man and a woman.

But last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Prop. 8.

That decision was appealed to the high court, which agreed to decide whether a state’s ban on same-sex marriages violates the U.S. Constitution.

In the other gay-marriage case, the court will decide if a specific part of DOMA called Section 3 is unconstitutional.

It is the part that bars recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes of federal benefits.

Same-sex marriage is legally recognized in nine states — Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hillary Rodham Clinton, free to dip her toe in the water of domestic politics after four years as the nation’s chief diplomat, joined other leading Democrats in endorsing same-sex marriage.

Clinton’s announcement – her first public statement since leaving her post as secretary of State in President Obama’s Cabinet on Feb. 1 – came Monday in a video released by the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group.

“LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones. And they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage,” Clinton says in the video, adding that she supports marriage rights for same-sex couples “personally and as a matter of policy and law.”

Like many party leaders at the time, Clinton stopped short of support for same-sex marriage as a presidential hopeful in 2008, though she supported civil unions “with full equality of benefits, rights and privileges,” as she said in a 2007 debate. In another candidate forum, she said that the issue of gay rights “will remain an important one in our country” and, noting that Republicans had used the issue to drive conservative voters to the polls in previous elections, she said Democrats should stand “against hatred and divisiveness.”

Now, support for same-sex marriage is embedded in the party’s platform. Vice President Joe Biden, like Clinton a potential contender for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, announced he supported gay marriage in May 2012, prompting the president to reveal his support days later.

Other possible candidates, including Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Martin O’Malley of Maryland, had already pushed their states to enact marriage equality laws. The issue has evolved so rapidly in contemporary politics that the announcement Friday from a leading Republican, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, supporting gay marriage sparked little response.

In her video, Clinton seemed to suggest that her newly expressed view was one she had held personally for some time. She began by recalling a 2011 speech in Geneva in which she said that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights” – language that evoked a similar statement in support of women’s rights that she had delivered in Beijing during her husband’s administration.

But she now goes further, stating that to deny the opportunity of marriage “to any of our daughters and sons solely on the basis of who they are and who they love is to deny them the chance to live up to their own God-given potential.”

Clinton also offered a peek at how she might reengage in the political sphere ahead of a second potential campaign. Traveling the world as secretary of State, she said, “reaffirmed and deepened my pride in our country and the ideals we stand for” and “inspired and challenged me to think anew about who we are and the values we represent to the world.”

“Now having left public office, I want to share some of what I’ve learned and come to believe. For America to continue leading in the world, there is work we must do here at home. That means investing in our people, our economy, our national security. It also means working every day as citizens, as communities, as a country, to live up to our highest ideals and continue our long march to a more perfect union,” she said.

This weekend David Plouffe, one of Obama’s chief political advisors in both presidential campaigns, said Clinton was “by far … the most interesting candidate, probably the strongest candidate” in either party for president in three years. Her plans, though, are far from clear at this early stage. In a series of exit interviews Clinton said her immediate priority was to reconnect with friends and family and recharge her batteries after her grueling four years at Foggy Bottom.

Los Angeles Times

Washington (CNN) — In a bold political and legal move, the Obama administration formally expressed its support for same-sex marriage in California, setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.

In a broadly worded legal brief on Thursday that senior government sources said had President Barack Obama’s personal input and blessing, the Justice Department asserted gay and lesbian couples in the nation’s most populous state have the same “equal protection” right to wed and that voters there were not empowered to ban it.

“Use of a voter initiative to promote democratic self-governance cannot save a law like Proposition 8 that would otherwise violate equal protection,” said the brief.

“Prejudice may not however be the basis for differential treatment under the law.”

California’s 2008 Proposition 8 referendum revoked the right of same-sex couples to wed after lawmakers and the state courts previously allowed it.

While the administration weighed in on the situation in California, it specifically refused to argue the constitutional right for same-sex couples to wed there should be extended to the 41 states that currently define marriage as between one man and one woman.

The justices will hear the case in March.

“The government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

“Throughout history, we have seen the unjust consequences of decisions and policies rooted in discrimination.”

“The issues before the Supreme Court in this case and the Defense of Marriage Act case are not just important to the tens of thousands Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our nation as a whole,” Holder added.

The White House was not expected to issue a separate statement.

The California matter and another appeal over the federal Defense of Marriage Act will produce blockbuster rulings from the justices in coming months.

Same-sex marriage could be a defining moment in Obama’s presidency, similar to the political impact last year when the Supreme Court upheld the health care reform law he spearheaded.

He must decide how much political capital to expend in coming months when expressing his views and those of the executive branch.

Gay rights groups had privately urged Obama and his top aides to go beyond his previous personal rhetoric in support of the right to marry and come down “on the side of history.”

Obama has already faced strong opposition on the issue from many Republican state and congressional lawmakers, as well as social conservatives.

The justices will hear oral arguments in the Proposition 8 case March 26, with a ruling due by the last week of June.

The separate case over the Defense of Marriage Act involves a 1996 law that says for federal purposes, marriage is defined as only between one man and one woman.

That means federal tax, Social Security, pension, and bankruptcy benefits, and family medical leave protections do not apply to gay and lesbian couples.

That case will be argued March 27.

But it is the California case where the high court is being asked to establish the constitutional “equal protection” right.

The administration is not a party in the appeal and was not required to weigh in, but it decided to file an amicus or “friend of the court” brief.

It is rare for a president to be personally involved in the legal and political considerations in a high court appeal, and sources say he spent a good deal of time reading up on the issue and articulating his views privately.

Much of the legal reasoning in any government brief would reflect in large part his personal thinking, gained from his years as a former constitutional law professor.

There are about approximately 120,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

The administration, in its brief, also hinted that so-called “civil union” laws in California and seven other states may be unconstitutional.

In what some have labeled the “eight-state strategy,” the Justice Department argues civil union and domestic partnership laws in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island may be unconstitutional and that they should go all the way and grant them full marriage rights.

“The object of California’s establishment of the legal relationship of domestic partnership is to grant committed same-sex couples rights equivalent to those accorded a married couple”

But Proposition 8, by depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry, denies them the dignity, respect, and stature accorded similarly situated opposite-sex couples under state law,” the court brief said.

Such civil union laws in most cases provide the same rights of marriage under state law, without actually calling it that.

Dozens of advocacy groups on both sides of the issue have bombarded the high court with briefs, including a coalition of national Republicans, business, faith, and military leaders supporting same-sex marriage.

Among the prominent conservative names lending their view: former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Hewlitt-Packard chief executive and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), and actor Clint Eastwood.

“As a Republican, I believe in protecting individual freedoms and that everyone, including gay and lesbian Americans, has a constitutional right to be treated equally under the law,” said former Rep. Jim Kolbe.

California state officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, also weighed in to oppose Proposition 8.

“California’s interests in protecting all of its children are best served by allowing these same-sex couples to enjoy the same benefits of marriage as opposite-sex couples,” state Attorney General Kamala Harris said of the estimated 50,000 youngsters being raised by gay and lesbian couples in the state.

Obama has had an evolving position on gay rights, once supporting only civil unions. But in his inaugural address last month, he raised expectations, and perhaps signaled his impending legal views, when offering sweeping rhetoric.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law– for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

In February, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled the California measure unconstitutional.

In its split decision, the panel found that Proposition 8 “works a meaningful harm to gays and lesbians” by denying their right to civil marriage.

The Supreme Court has discretion to rule narrowly or broadly on the aspects of the legal and procedural questions raised.

court400Placentia, Calif. (KTLA) Supporters of Proposition 8 say they are thrilled about the Supreme Court decision to take up the issue of gay marriage.

In fact the group Protect is now raising money to help defend what it calls “traditional marriage” in court.

The group writes on its website, “More than seven million Californians of all races, creeds, and walks of life voted for Proposition 8 to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.”

The Supreme Court announced Friday it will rule for the first time on same-sex marriage by deciding the constitutionality of California s Proposition 8.

gay-marriageBy David G. Savage Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The Supreme Court announced Friday it will rule for the first time on same-sex marriage by deciding the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, the voter initiative that limited marriage to a man and a woman.

The justices also said they would decide whether legally married gay couples have a right to equal benefits under federal law.

The California case raises the broad question of whether gays and lesbians have an equal right to marry.

If the justices had turned down the appeal from the defenders of Prop. 8, it would have allowed gay marriages to resume in California, but without setting a national precedent.

Now, the high court has agreed to decide whether a state’s ban on same-sex marriages violates the U.S. Constitution. The court’s intervention came just one month after voters in three states—Maine, Maryland and Washington—approved gay marriages. This brought the total to nine states having legalized same-sex marriages.

But the justices also left themselves a way out. They said they would consider whether the defenders of Prop. 8 had legal standing to bring their appeal.

The justices made the announcement after meeting behind closed doors. They did not say which justices voted to hear the appeals.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Prop. 8, but it did so on a narrow basis. Judge Stephen Reinhardt reasoned that the voter initiative was unconstitutional because it took away from gays and lesbians a right to marry that they won before the state supreme court.

The justices now will have at least three options before them. First, they could reverse the 9th Circuit and uphold Prop. 8, thereby making clear that the definition of marriage will be left to the discretion of each state and its voters.

They could rule broadly that denying gays and lesbians the fundamental right to marry violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Such a decision would open the door to gay marriages nationwide.

Or as a third option, they could follow the approach set by the 9th Circuit and strike down Prop. 8 in a way that limits the ruling to California only.

In the other gay-marriage cases, the court will decide the constitutionality of part of the Defense of Marriage Act which denies federal benefits to legally married couples. Judges in New England, New York and California have ruled this provision unconstitutional.

The justices are expected to hear arguments in the two sets of gay marriage cases in March and issue decisions by late June.

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday they will rule on the California gay-marriage case, according to a report by the Los Angles Times.

Many had speculated that the court would not take the case, which would let an appeals court ruling on the matter stand.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found earlier this year that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, clearing the way for same-sex marriage in California unless the Supreme Court decides to get involved.